Running away from an arranged marriage in her Indonesia village, 16-year-old Ima Matul landed in a city, where she was fortunate to find work as a nanny for a family. And after a while — when the mother told her she had a wealthy cousin in Los Angeles who also needed a nanny — the teenager couldn’t believe her good luck.“I said, ‘yes.’ Why not, you know, ’cause it sounds good and I would be working for another Indonesian family, and I didn’t have to learn English,” she recalls, 15 years later. “And the promise was $150 a month pay. I had this opportunity to come to the United States, so I took it, along with my cousin who would work for another family. And we didn’t have to pay anything.”In July of 1997, the two came to L.A. with the family she worked for. Once here, for a week they stayed together while learning how to clean with different products, how to cook American food, how to change diapers. All of this was culturally brand new to them.Then Ima was taken to a “beautiful” three-bedroom house in Westwood by her new employer. The young Indonesian mother showed her around, telling her what her duties were as a nanny. But those duties soon expanded when the cleaning lady was let go. Now she had to clean the whole house, along with taking care of a baby and cooking. The promise to be able to see her cousin at least once a month also soon changed. Not only did she not see her, but couldn’t even call her on the phone. So she wrote her a letter, but it was returned because the spelling of the address was wrong. That’s when everything turned really bad.“She got all mad,” Ima recalls, “and started hitting me and asking me, ‘Why?’ She was hitting me like almost every day, mostly on my face — slapping me or pushing me into the wall. Sometimes she hit me with frozen rice wrapped in banana leaves, one of our favorite foods. I had bruises because it was like a rock. And one time she even hit me on the head with the salt shaker, and her husband had to take me to the emergency room to get stitches.”‘Please help me escape’When asked why she didn’t just leave, Ima smiles knowingly and gives a little chuckle.“Everyone always asks me the same thing,” she answers. “The reason why I stayed was because I had no choice. Because she threatened me if I ran away the police will catch me, and deport me or throw me in jail. And she said in jail there’s bad people and I could get raped.“Also, I didn’t know anyone in the country besides my cousin, who I hadn’t seen since the day we got separated. I didn’t have any money because I never got paid — that was another thing. She never paid me the promised $150 every month. So if I escaped, where am I going to go? I didn’t know my rights or where to go to get help. “But after she had the second baby, you know, it just got worse every day,” she adds. “I thought she might change, but, no, she didn’t. So I finally could not take it anymore after three years.”In desperation, Ima wrote a very short note to the neighbors next door in September of 2000. All it said was “Please help me escape.”She gave it to the neighbors’ nanny when she was outside, and the nanny showed it to the American couple she worked for. They’d heard about a fledging organization called CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking), and had the nanny drive her to their office in Little Tokyo. After a three-week stay at the Good Shepherd emergency center, a space opened up at Alexandria House, a long-term transitional home for women and children near downtown L.A. She lived there for 14 months, and the experience radically altered her life. She went to the Metropolitan Skill Center to learn better English and also about computers. CAST provided a case manager to help her with legal services and the case against her trafficker. Later at Alexandria House, she received counseling, referrals and even a job taking care of residents’ children when they were away. Then she landed a job at a Ross Dress for Less store. And after a year and two months, she had saved enough money to move into her own apartment two blocks away.In 2002, she married a fellow student at the ESL (English as a Second Language) center. Today they have three children, ages nine, seven and five. All have gotten child care at Alexandria House. Her husband works as a cashier at a gas station. A year-and-a-half ago, CAST hired her to organize its Survival Leadership Program. She and other trafficked victims mentor new “survivors,” giving them practical skills like how to take a bus as well as offering them emotional support. Last September, Ima and another woman who escaped from her captors were honored at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York. President Obama, told their poignant stories, promising he would make new efforts to combat human trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. She also has testified before Congress to support the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victim Protection Act. The measure enhances criminal penalties for human traffickers, plus provides “T-Visas” that allow victims to stay in the United States. Moreover, Ima is now a proud permanent resident with a green card and hopes one day to become an American citizen.Hidden behind doorsNothing has happened to the young mother in Westwood. Domestic trafficking, which is hidden behind doors, is probably more common than sex trafficking, according to authorities. But sex trafficking is out there on Hollywood Boulevard and other seedy L.A streets. There aren’t solid statistics on either, however. It’s also common for a victim from a certain country to wind up, like Ima, working for a trafficker from that same country. “Mostly Indonesians traffic Indonesian people; Filipino people traffic their own people,” she says. “Because, you know, we trust them because we’re from the same country. How could they do it? We trust them when they come to our village offering good jobs. How could you not take that opportunity?”The Los Angeles Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies say gangs are getting into human trafficking, because if caught and convicted the penalties are a lot less than for selling drugs. Ima says Angelenos need to be more aware, since Los Angeles is one of the top three trafficking destinations in the nation. Victims can be the dishwasher at a five-star restaurant in Century City, the maid in a high-rise hotel near LAX or pedicurist in a Beverly Hills beauty salon. Recently Ima spotted a young pretty woman with a toddler strapped to her chest not uttering a word, only holding up a cardboard sign asking for money on the Metro Red Line. “People just don’t know,” she says, shaking her head. “Because they think that slavery was already banished 150 years ago by President Lincoln. But it’s still happening. And now it’s called ‘modern slavery,’ which is human trafficking. So it’s different from back then. But people need to be aware of their surroundings.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0315/humant/{/gallery}